Teaching unions were quick to distance themselves from the letter, saying that the vast majority of their members followed scientific advice in dealing with coronavirus.
Photo: Romain Gamba (archives)
An open letter to education minister Claude Meisch has questioned the efficacy of face masks in stopping the spread of coronavirus and demanded they should no longer be mandatory in the classroom.
The 3-page letter, written by lawyer Jean-Marie Bauler on behalf of what he says are 120 teachers, tutors, support staff and parents of students, is appended by some 35 pages of annotations and citations of studies from around the world. The lawyer says the signatories of the letter wish to remain anonymous, but that a small number have been in direct contact with his practice. “I don’t have the statistics, but they’re not just from one school or two schools,” Bauler told Paperjam on Friday morning.
In the letter, Bauler addresses the requirement to wear masks in the classroom. “As I’m sure you’re aware, these people are increasingly suffering from headaches and nausea, and they’re feeling much less comfortable and they’re becoming irritated more quickly.” The lawyer goes on to argue that “communication with children is also hampered” by the wearing of masks, that facial expression is essential to learning and the education of children suffering from dyslexia is also being compromised.
But as Bauler points out in his letter, the obligation to wear a mask in schools has not been imposed by the ministry at national level but is being left to the discretion of the management of individual schools.
“As far as I know, most of them make it mandatory,” Bauler told Paperjam. “If we are heading in that direction, why does the minister not impose it everywhere? It is as if the management at hospices for the elderly were left to choose. If this is a serious public health problem, it is up to the government to take responsibility, not people at lower levels.”
One of the main questions Bauler poses concerns legal liability if a student contracts the virus at school. “My constituents hope that the debate will finally begin…including the responsibility aspect,” he said.
Ministry and unions surprised
Cited by RTL, Lex Folscheid, the top advisor at the education ministry, said that his team were surprised by the letter because the subject of masks in school is “no longer really a major concern.” Teaching unions, including the SEW and the SNE/CGFP, were also quick to distance themselves from the letter, saying that the vast majority of their members followed scientific advice in dealing with coronavirus, including wearing masks and social distancing. But Bauler does not only question the efficacy of masks and the effect that they have on children--citing controversial German paediatrician Dr Herbert Renz-Polster into the bargain--he also uses the letter to argue that the coronavirus pandemic is no more deadly or harmful than seasonal flu.
“Unquestionably we are not facing a killer virus that kills thousands of people in the country. Why then must children, teachers and educators be exposed to health risks, even if the health situation is not worse than in previous years?”
Pirates ask parliamentary question
It was this virus denial that elicited the most vociferous reaction on social media. Pirate Party MP Sven Clement said that “if 120 teachers signed [the letter], we have an ACUTE teaching problem…” The Pirate Party has even written a three-part parliamentary question to the minister, and has asked in light of the letter how the ministry can “guarantee parents that in schools and high schools only facts about covid-19 are being passed on to students?” The party said that “unfortunately, the question was not considered urgent”
Other commentators called the signatories cowardly for refusing to reveal their identity, and some even questioned whether there were really 120 individual signatories of the letter.
The letter appears to have had little effect other than to spark anger and damage the reputation of the teaching profession in the country. But Bauler has maybe one more trick up his sleeve. Asked by Paperjam journalist Mathilde Obert what might happen if the government does not respond to the open letter, the lawyer suggested setting a legal precedence. “A solution would be, for example, the case of a person who finds themselves sanctioned [for not wearing the mask in class], would defend himself by saying it was not necessary. Finally, a judge would have to weigh up a decision, unless there’s a broad public debate”